Can You Train Your Own Service Dog?

Can You Train Your Own Service Dog?

Service Dogs can be a lifeline for those with physical or mental health limitations that interfere with fully participating in regular life activities. A Service Dog is specifically trained to perform work for an individual with a disability. Besides helping their owners with a task, they help their owners regain the freedom to go about their lives without limitations.  The process of obtaining a Service Dog can seem daunting and comes with numerous questions. Many seeking help have begun to ask, can you train your own Service Dog?

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Good News!

You are allowed to train your own Service Dog.

Traditionally obtaining a Service Dog is quite expensive. Service Dogs undergo rigorous training and can cost $20,000 or more just for their professional training. Most people don’t know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows individuals to train their Service Dogs themselves. The law does not stipulate that Service Dogs must be professionally trained. Training can be completed by you, a friend, or a professional trainer.

Why we love this: it breaks down the barriers that have made obtaining a Service Dog out of reach for so many. Ultimately this allowance by the ADA makes obtaining a Service Dog a more accessible means of treatment for individuals with disabilities or mental health challenges who might not otherwise be able to afford a Service Dog.

Can You Train Your Own Service Dog?

Get Your ESA Today

ATTENTION

Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.

Supplies Needed

Keep it simple, but make sure you’ve got these items before getting started:

  • Collar – a basic collar is all that is needed. 
  • Leash – a light nylon leash will do. A stronger leash or chain is not ideal for training. 
  • Treats – mini-sized treats or “bites” work well for training. What kind you get is purely a preference for you and your pup! 
  • Treat Tote– during training, you may repeat a specific behavior 20 times or more to reach mastery of a new task. These treat totes can be found anywhere from Walmart to Chewy and come in handy for all the rewards you’ll be dispensing. 
  • Vest – while it’s not a requirement, having a “Service Dog in training” vest can be helpful as you navigate unfamiliar scenarios with your pup. Note that dogs in training don’t have the same rights to access public places in all states as Service Dogs do. A vest can help communicate that your dog is doing some on-the-job training.
Can You Train Your Own Service Dog?
Can You Train Your Own Service Dog?

Where to Start

With all the options out there, you could easily get overwhelmed thinking about how to begin training your Service Dog. There are many different approaches to dog training in general. Adding in specific service-related tasks can compound the feeling of being overwhelmed even more. 

It takes a lot of time and patience to train a Service Dog. Focused training programs with a professional trainer can last 6-9 months in length. With consistent training and lots of love, patience, and plenty of rewards, you can self-train a Service Dog to effectively mitigate the symptoms of a disability. You can expect that fully training a Service Dog yourself could take up to a year to complete.  

The Basics

Service Dog training starts with these basic, foundational skills. 

  • House training – aka “potty training.” 
  • Basic obedience training –your dog will need to obey basic verbal or hand signal obedience commands such as Sit, Stay, Come, Down and Heel. And will also need to come to you when called. 
  • Eliminate on command – this might seem odd at first, but it’s important. When assisting their owner, there may be times, like when traveling, that a Service Dog will need to be able to “eliminate” in unfamiliar locations, not just at their “preferred” spot. 
  • Socialization – well-trained Service Dogs will be good friends and neighbors and not be timid or fearful in new situations. 

You should plan on spending a few months teaching your dog the basics before moving on to the mastery of assistance tasks. 

Can You Train Your Own Service Dog?

Training Resources

There are so many good resources available online. We’re highlighting just a few of the best ones we’ve seen. 

American Service Pets Blog 

As a service to customers, ASP strives to equip Service Animal owners with up-to-date information on ESA and PSA rules, travel guidelines, etc., via their blog. Additionally, it is a priority to offer helpful resources such as pet care information, training guides, and mental health tips. You can also follow American Service Pets on Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest) for more regular training tips and helpful content. 

Here are a couple of good blogs to help kick off your training: 

Canine Good Citizens 

The American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program is a widely recognized program for dog training. It can provide the basic foundational skills for a well-behaved pup! 

Service Dog Standards 

Service Dog Standards is a small group of Service Dog owners and trainers who have created some community-defined training standards for Service Animals. These standards go above and beyond the ADA standards and include a basic “public access test.” Service Dog owners can voluntarily comply with these standards. We’re highlighting them here to offer a starting point of responsible Service Dog ownership. 

Best Service Dog Training Resources 

Anything Pawsable interviewed several successful, well-established Service Dog trainers to compile a list of their top 10 best Service Dog Training Resources. It’s a great list to help you start off on the right foot… err… paw as the case may be.

Can You Train Your Own Service Dog?

Service Dog Specific Tasks

General Skills 

  • Sitting still – remain tethered to one spot for an extended period until cued by the owner to move. This is an important skill that is foundational for advancing service dog training.
  • Remain on task – while being exposed to unfamiliar people, animals, places, sounds, and scents, service dogs will not break their focus from their task to accept pets or eat food or greet other dogs while working.
  • Focus on the handler and ignore distractions – when they are working, their sole focus is on their owner’s need(s). Service dogs don’t allow distractions like loud noises or unexpected scenarios to pull them off task. 
  • Good leash behavior – your dog should be well behaved on and off-leash.

 

Most service dog trainers suggest a minimum of 30 hours of training in a public setting to prepare your dog to behave obediently in public settings. It is important to note that you are always responsible for the behavior and control of your service dog.

Service dogs help disabled people perform a job or task that they cannot easily do for themselves. A service dog must be trained to perform two specific tasks to assist its owner’s disability. These tasks have to be quantifiable, such as retrieving medicine, alerting their owner to an oncoming seizure, opening doors for someone with a mobility issue, or grounding an owner who is having a panic attack. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability and will be individualized for each service dog team. 

Dogs process one concept at a time, so the key to success in this step is to start slow and build upon the foundational skills you’ve taught – one skill at a time. This step is so individualized that you may need to find specific training resources for your particular needs to progress from here. 

Can You Train Your Own Service Dog?

There is no formal test that a pup takes before becoming an official service dog. You will know best when your service dog is ready to get to work. 

We want to encourage you to have fun training your dog. You’re building a unique partnership with your pup. This is only the starting point of your journey together. There are always new skills to master or sharpen, so enjoy the ride!

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ESA or PSA Certification?

The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!

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More Great Resources

Attention: Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible. Click here to see if you qualify.